PAULINE THOUGHT ABOUT killing her sister every day. A ghastly, violent death is what Enid deserved. Drowning. Dismemberment. Ebola. A red-hot poker stick up the ass.
Pauline, your grey hair makes you look haggard. Who said you could wear skinny jeans?
Why does this chicken taste like beef?
For someone who is a professional cleaner, your house sure is filthy.
Pauline, your gravy is lumpy.
Pauline, why does it smell like pee in front of your house?
Enid had moved into Pauline’s 800-square-foot house when Enid’s useless husband Earl died. Heart attack, they said. More like death by spouse.
Pauline let Enid stay because what else could she do? Kick Enid out? Thugs had shook every last cent from Enid’s Chanel purse and then taken the purse, the estate, the European luxury cars, and the diamonds. Enid claimed not to know Earl was trafficking cocaine on their quarterly jaunts to Colombia. And now she had nowhere to go. So Pauline moved her exotic butterfly collection from the display in the guest bedroom to the basement and offered Enid a temporary place to stay. Three years later, Enid was most certainly a permanent fixture, as dim as the lighting and as useless as the VCR.
“Enid, why is there hair on my toothbrush?”
“I used it to brush my eyebrows.”
“I put this in my mouth!”
“Wash it off! It’s not like I used it to brush my pubes!”
Pauline had done her best over the years to disassociate from Enid, to pretend she was an only child. But Enid always found ways to interrupt Pauline’s peaceful life: medical “emergencies,” pre-Earl money “emergencies,” drunken “emergencies.”
Enid was a 73-year-old brat. Losing all her money had turned her into a stuck-up slob. She slept in until noon. She did not lift a finger around the house except to give the toilet bowl a quick scrub after number two. She refused to chip in on the utility bills because she had no money. She refused to get a job to remedy her penniless situation. She loved to cook, but only knew how to use the microwave, so it was not really cooking at all, but reheating, defrosting, and Pauline scrape, scrape, scraping off exploded chunks of nuked mess glued to the sides of the microwave.
Dropping off and picking up Pauline from work was the extent of Enid’s help. And it was only because Enid wanted to use the car.
“You can’t expect me to sit at home all day.”
Despite her good intentions, that is exactly what Enid did while Pauline vacuumed and dusted a seven-storey law office building.
All that changed when Enid won the lottery.
“Yahoo!” yelled the ticket machine. The fast-talking Indian cashier at their neighbourhood AlwaysOpen told Enid she had won three and a half million bucks. Enid demanded he check it again. “Yahoo!” A call to the lottery office confirmed Enid’s win.
Pauline did not want a new car. She did not want jewels. She was seventy going on seventy-one. She was in want of nothing except a little peace and quiet. And maybe a trip to Hawaii. Maybe a new couch to replace the one with Enid’s ass groove in it. Maybe a little kickback on the utility and grocery bills from Enid’s freeloading years.
What did Enid give Pauline when she cashed in her winnings? An abandoned room that stank of fried cheese and dill pickles. A bed turned into a soggy hot dog bun. Stains on the carpet from Sea Foam #120 nail polish. “You get what you wish for!” written in Enid’s jagged scrawl on the back of a power bill, taped to the guest bedroom door. Good riddance, Pauline told herself after she had finished de-Eniding her house. Pauline painted the guestroom Woodlawn Blue, installed fresh carpet and threw out the bed. She replaced it with a mahogany chaise lounge and gave the room a few squirts of Fresh Linen. Enid was harder to get rid of than bed bugs. But Pauline was free, and for a while, that was more than sufficient.
Two months and not a word from Enid. Not a phone call. Or a Facebook message. Or even a one-line email. Pauline checked her mailbox everyday for a cheque from Enid. A little token of thanks. A couple thousand would do. The old hag had not even bought Pauline a thank-you gift. In fact, the old witch had never even bought Pauline a birthday present in all the years she had squatted at Pauline’s expense. Trying to pass off tie-dyed shoelaces (from Pauline’s shoes) and a duct-tape wallet as gifts. How was the universe so unfair that it rewarded a once-rich sister with riches again? Could it not have picked Pauline, rewarded Pauline for putting up with Enid?
“How’s your sister?” the AlwaysOpen cashier asked one evening, scanning Pauline’s jug of milk and lottery ticket.
“I hope she’s dead,” Pauline wanted to say, had wished the words true. Instead she muttered, “Fine, I think. She moved out.”
It was rude, really, to wish your sister dead. Even a sister as wicked and greedy as Enid. Pauline lugged her milk and losing ticket home as the sun rose over her townhouse complex. Her feet were killing her after a long night shift she had picked up to pay for the chaise. Pauline’s mind was already on falling into her soft bed when she noticed an envelope just inside the entrance of her front door. Enid’s scratch on the front. For Pauline. This was it! This was the payback Pauline was waiting for. Her sister was not a monster after all. Enid had turned a new leaf! Pauline considered inviting Enid for tea as she dragged her finger across the envelope, ripping the seal. A cheque! Pauline yanked it out and unfolded it. Had Enid forgotten a few zeros? Pauline turned the cheque over. Inspected the back. Turned it over to look at the front again. Grabbed her reading glasses. Definitely just two zeros. There was a piece of paper in the envelope. Surely Enid would say it was a monthly repayment of the debt she owed to Pauline. A “cash for life” type deal.
Money for the lamp I broke. –Enid
Lamp? What lamp? Just for a lamp? Did Enid not realize the squalor she had left in her wake? The money Pauline had spent just to get her house back to normal? Pauline flipped over the paper. Nothing. Just the lamp. One hundred dollars for a goddamn lamp Pauline did not even know was broken. In her all-consuming fit of rage, Pauline checked every lamp in the house. In the end, the lamp Enid meant was the light in the hood range. Light. Enid had meant light. She had burnt out a light bulb. Enid’s stupidity was the last straw. No living creature that idiotic should have survived Darwin’s theory. Pauline pledged by the burnt out light of her hood range to take care of that oversight.
It was a good thing Enid had written a cheque instead of sending a hundred-dollar bill. Her address was on the top-left corner. Pauline plugged it into Google Maps, which produced not only detailed instructions to Enid’s swanky new residence, but also a street view of the house.
On the drive over, Pauline wondered who would get Enid’s winnings if she died. Assuming there was any money left over. Enid was notoriously horrible with money, which was confirmed as Pauline pulled up to the two-story colonial mansion on Emerson Drive. The richest neighbourhood with the highest taxes. The mansion, with its four white pillars and dozen street-facing windows, was easily worth more than two million dollars. Enid would barely get through another two years in the house before she was flat broke again. Imbecile! Pauline clenched the steering wheel of her oil-spewing ’92 Buick LeSabre. Someone needed to stop Enid’s madness. But how?
For three weeks, between cleaning shifts, Pauline snooped around Enid’s absurd mansion. She sometimes slept only four or five hours a night just to watch Enid prance in and out of her home in designer duds with fancy updos and downdos and up-down dos. Apparently Enid’s social life had blossomed since she had become a richy-rich again. No longer an impoverished recluse, Enid’s social calendar was difficult for Pauline to track. But there was a small window of time that seemed constant: Wednesdays. A break in the fluff. After Pilates and just before a cake decorating class, Enid spent an hour at home with a cup of yogurt and the latest issue of US Weekly. It would be simple to break in—Enid hid a key in the fake plastic squirrel on the front step when she went speed walking.
Pauline googled, “quick ways to die,” conscious of the fact that the FBI could be tracking her internet activity. Contrary to crime shows and Agatha Christie novels, rat poisoning was not the method of choice for a quick death. Quite the opposite. Depending on the quantity ingested, it could take days. A painfully slow breakdown of vital organs. Too much suffering and unpleasantness, for what Pauline was interested in. She wanted to snuff Enid out, like a candle. Pauline googled “home suicide.” The search results presented a variety of interesting options, ranging from the best pillow density for suffocation to prescription overdose. Pauline was not keen on being there when Enid died—knowing the end had come for that miserable old wench was satisfaction enough. Pauline took a cue from admiralsunshine2007 and decided on a cocktail of Oxycontin—a bottle of it still in her medicine cabinet from a back injury—and an anti-nauseate to prevent Enid from barfing the Oxycontin back up.
The Wednesday of the fourth week started like any other Wednesday. Pauline watched Enid tear off down the street to Pilates, “Living la Vida Loca” blasting out of her candy-apple BMW convertible. Pauline checked her rear-view mirror, then her side mirrors. Seeing no one on the street, she slipped out of her car with a paper bag containing the Oxycontin cocktail and extra-thick dishwashing gloves and scurried to Enid’s front step. The plastic squirrel happily gave up the house key and before Pauline knew it, she was standing in Enid’s ornate foyer with her gloves on.
There was no time for gawking—well, maybe a gawk or two at the tacky fresco ceiling depicting plump babies blowing gold horns. Pauline made two wrong turns before she ended up in a kitchen so white it looked dipped in bleach. On the kitchen table was a white gift bag with turquoise tissue paper springing out the top.
Enid was not known for her generosity, so then who was important enough that Enid would buy them a gift? Pauline tossed her paper bag aside and pulled the white present towards her. There was no gift tag. It wouldn’t hurt to peek. She gently pushed back the tissue paper with her gloved hands and peered inside. A white someth… a leather purse! Pauline reached in and yanked the heavy purse and all the tissue out. She stroked the quilted white Chanel leather, traced the CC logo on the front with her gloved finger. Who would Enid buy a purse for? Pauline slipped the chain over her shoulder. The weight of the bag made the chain dig into her shoulder. Were they all this heavy? Was it a knockoff? Pauline fiddled with the clasp and flipped open the front flap.
It took Pauline a second to process what was in the purse and another second to process that the purse was not likely a gift at all. At that moment, she could not decide which realization made her more furious—the fact that she had been played again or that there was a large Ziploc bag of cocaine in her sister’s purse? Both proved there was not a shred of moral aptitude in Enid’s soft brain.
Enid had known about Earl’s side business all along. Was Enid working with the same dealer? The cocaine in the purse seemed too great a quantity—a kilo, at least—for leisurely home use. Pauline held the purse in her hands, weighing her options. It was such a nice purse. Such an expensive purse. Some dealer would want their cut from the sale. Would come looking for it. Enid could be someone else’s problem to deal with. Someone with more experience in this field.
Pauline returned the heavy purse to the gift bag, packed the tissue paper on top.
“Thanks, Enid.” Pauline locked her fingers around the straps of the gift bag. “You shouldn’t have.” ∞
Suzanne Johnston is a marketing professional living in Calgary, Alberta. She blogs about science and technology by day and writes risk-taking fiction by night, drawing inspiration from her prairie roots. When not writing, Suzanne is travelling or creating content about travelling or dreaming about travelling. She is a member of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. You can find her online at www.writefullyliving.com or @writefullyliving on Instagram.